Privatter’s getting kind of annoying for this so I thought I’d actually use my blog. I’ve installed a spoiler hiding plugin so anything related to material from the novel for eps 4+ should be [ads_blur_spoiler color_blur=”#000000″]tagged/hidden[/ads_blur_spoiler], but if you’re extremely spoiler-phobic I would recommend not reading this post because my speculation is going to be colored by knowledge from the novels regardless. A lot of this is just reiterated or copied and edited from my Twitter musings and privatter speculation posts btw.
The ㋐ Marks and the Otter Marks
So, I’m highly dubious that these are “faction” symbols as we’re sort of inclined to interpret them, so much as thematic ones. What themes they’re meant to symbolize, I’m not confident in, but my best guess would be that the ㋐ could be for something like 愛 (love) and the otter for 欲望 (desire), but I don’t really think that totally squares and evidence for anything other than the otter’s association with the Desire Field is extremely limited.
We see this sequence of ㋐’s flipping over to become otter marks after the boy’s first transformation into kappa as the Desire Field expands (also of note, in the arial shot of Asakusa, the field is shown to originate from exactly where Reo and Mabu’s police box is located). I feel like you could read this particular little sequence as a rather cheesy metaphor for them being “two sides of the same coin” but that might be a little too corny.
An oft overlooked appearance of the ㋐ symbols is behind Sara in her intro. The symbol is incorporated into four phrases here:
世界の㋐を叫[べ] – Shout the ㋐ of the world
㋐を御自由に御覧ください – Please ㋐ at your leisure
㋐あって自分 – Have ㋐ in yourself
心から㋐を信じなさい – Believe in ㋐ from the bottom of your heart
Interestingly the Starting Guide draws attention to these phrases (although it gives no clue as to what they mean), so I think it’s probably somewhat important despite how small a detail they are. I still don’t really know what it means, but I feel like this little detail at least frames the mark more as a quality of something than purely a mark of like the Kappa Kingdom or kappa territory.
The Otters and the Kappa
Even setting aside the mythological origins of kappa (tl;dr they’re otters), I feel like the show’s been dropping a lot of hints about the two “factions” not being as different as Keppi would like you to believe.
Sara’s dance pose in Afterschool Kappa and in the opening to Asakusa Sara TV is highly reminiscent of the otter logo.
When the otter faction creates a kappa zombie, we see not only eyes that resemble those of Keppi and Sara’s kappa-like mascot, but we also see: tentacles, which Keppi definitely has and uses to extract shirikodama. Also seems worth noting that Sara’s mascot thing curiously has a muzzle instead of a beak… almost like… an otter.
We also have the lines in Kawausoiya:
Those we have captured have two [possible] fates
Those who are like us are one in the same lifeform
First, you may notice I’ve translated this a little differently from CR’s rendering, I’m like 90% sure the first line is a reference to the people they’re snagging to turn into zombies and the choice between Love or Desire (I feel like there’s further support for this later on, as in chapter 6 of the novel we see [ads_blur_spoiler color_blur=”#000000″]what happens when someone is judged to have “love” instead of “desire”[/ads_blur_spoiler]). The second line I think you could read as another reference to their zombie victims, but I feel like the first one feels a little too final and instead this is a sort of contrast and actually talking about the kappa––who are very similar to the otters (if nothing else they are both after the same resource: desire energy)––being fundamentally the same “species” as the otters.
My less supported leap from here is that I think the otters are probably a faction within the kappa.
Asakusa Sara TV Text Crawls
Some things we know from these: In the first episode she was looking for a/her prince with a lot of kappa-like characteristics (but isn’t a frog) and a “sexy voice” (this is almost certainly a meta-joke since, while there are a couple other voice actors on the show who could qualify as イケボ Suwabe is probably the member of the cast most frequently associated with the term), who was in a “cold sleep” somewhere and whoever broke it would be “cursed” (specifically this is the exact same word Kazuki uses when he worries about being cursed for breaking the statue). So, while this could be a misdirect and Ikuhara is clearly not above doing really unfair fakeouts in this show, I think the only real answer here is that the prince she was looking for is Keppi.
According to her crawl in episode 2, she has reunited with her prince (noting some more details that also match up with Keppi––especially describing his eyes like “blackholes”) and notes that his physical form has changed. Her wording makes it sound like it’s a disappointing change. Which, again, if we’re running with the Keppi thing, suggests that Keppi had a different form previously. Personally I suspect he’s that vague crown-like figure in this panel at the end of the manga (also from the one other panel the figures appear in, it does look like they’re supposed to be two individuals):
Also of note, in episode 1 she makes a reference to needing boxes to 夜逃げ or to skip town in the middle of the night (typically assumed to be done to run away from debts, but often it’s actually someone trying to get away from domestic violence, stalkers, or threats from organized crime), and the next sentence starts “Sara mo mu” before cutting off, which I strongly suspect is the start of サラも昔に (in the past Sara also… (based on the context of the previous sentence) [skipped town in the middle of the night]). So perhaps Sara at one point ran away.
In episode 3 she talks about her home “country” which suggests she is not from Japan and mentions more cucumber related customs which, again seem highly suggestive of kappa.
This is spoiler city for chapter 5-6 of the novel.
So there’s this interesting exchange in chapter 6 between Kazuki’s parents [ads_blur_spoiler color_blur=”#000000″] after Kazuki has been unmasked while impersonating Sara:[/ads_blur_spoiler]
“You know… now that you mention it, I can kind of see a resemblance.”
Haruka’s father as watching Sara dance on the TV screen.
“Yeah. Maybe that’s why he became so obsessed with her…”
I think, as with a lot of stuff in this series, the line is deliberately vague and framed in a way to make you read it one way even though it’s really referencing something else. So there are two main points of ambiguity in this excerpt [ads_blur_spoiler color_blur=”#000000″]in Kazuki’s father’s line, who does he think Sara resembles? Context makes you think he’s talking about Kazuki, but what if he’s really talking about his sister, Kazuki’s mother? and the second one is in his mother’s response, who is obsessed with Sara? Again you’re led to believe it’s Kazuki (and I do actually think that’s probably what she’s talking about this time) but it could also be Haruka––which, again, I don’t think is the case here but it did get me thinking about something: what if Haruka’s obsession with Sara is more recent (perhaps post-accident)? And the reason he’s preoccupied with her is because she resembles his estranged aunt/Kazuki’s birth mother––he did meet her briefly after Kazuki did.[/ads_blur_spoiler] Anyway tl;dr what if Sara is [ads_blur_spoiler color_blur=”#000000″]Kazuki’s mom (or somehow related to her)?[/ads_blur_spoiler]
Reo and Mabu
My elaborate timeline/etc theory:
So first some people are speculating that Reo and Mabu are in fact not the same “species”(? idk how best to characterize this) with one of them being an otter and the other a kappa. The most obvious arrangement is probably Mabu being the kappa and Reo being the otter if this is the case (although their image colors sorta suggest the reverse). If we look at the interlude in the first novel, “Rain”, [ads_blur_spoiler color_blur=”#000000″]it’s about Reo being homeless and generally shunned by society in a land that particularly values rain––which sounds like it could be the Kappa Kingdom––if Reo was an otter it’d make sense why he was being treated that way until Mabu saves him.[/ads_blur_spoiler]
That said I kinda wonder if maybe the otters are just an underclass within the Kappa Kingdom and the [ads_blur_spoiler color_blur=”#000000″]”invasion” is mischaracterized deliberately when it’s really a *revolt*. Something about the way Reo describes Mabu’s hand in the interlude (as being pure white and unblemished vs his dirty hands)[/ads_blur_spoiler] in particular made me think it might be a class thing.
Anyway, so regardless of what “species” they are, I think the timeline goes something like Rain -> Manga -> Post-epilogue -> Twitter -> Anime and they’ve switched allegiances. So lemme lay this one out. First some establishing background:
– In the manga their police box is 皿交番 (plate police box) while in the anime there’s an otter on top and it’s now 川嘘交番 (wordplay for “otter” but with the word 嘘 “lies” subbed in), and if you examine the OP closely, in that overhead shot of Asakusa where the otter mark takes over the city, the point of origin is their police box.
– In the post-epilogue section of the first novel, they are only described as wearing [ads_blur_spoiler color_blur=”#000000″]”black military uniforms” when they show up in Keppi’s chambers during the Otter Invasion. There’s no actual indication of what side they’re on. They take no hostile action toward Keppi (although they could have intended to and not had the opportunity before he exploded).[/ads_blur_spoiler]
So my general theory of the timeline/etc is that when they were both younger, Mabu, a kappa, makes a connection with Reo (possibly an otter), and brings him into the kappa side.
Later, they’re stationed in Asakusa (what their mission is on the kappa side, I’m not sure, I still think Keppi was full of shit when he insinuated that the otters were the only ones stealing 欲望 from the humans––where would the kappa have gotten it in the first place otherwise?) and working for the kappa, and then the events of the manga happen. I’m not really sure how to account for Sara here yet but she seems to be a kappa herself (or maybe she’s an otter!) and has some affiliation with Keppi, although I don’t get the impression that during the events of the manga they had any idea about that.
At some point after the events of the manga (which only appears to cover at most a few months, if that), [ads_blur_spoiler color_blur=”#000000″]the Otter Invasion takes place. Perhaps they’re recalled in some military capacity to defend the kingdom or something as pressure mounted from the otter side, idk.[/ads_blur_spoiler] Mabu is killed, [ads_blur_spoiler color_blur=”#000000″]Otter Empire ultimately takes over, Keppi is sealed in the kappa statue in Asakusa (unbeknownst to Reo and Mabu, since they definitely did not know where he was until they baited him out with Haruka in ch 5-6).[/ads_blur_spoiler] I think it’s at this point that they might have switched sides. Like perhaps [ads_blur_spoiler color_blur=”#000000″]the otters helped “revive” Mabu and the Kappa Kingdom is effectively dead at this point anyway, so it’d make sense for them to have possibly switched allegiance here.[/ads_blur_spoiler]
Which, assuming Mabu’s weird Twitter behavior is meant to be an indication of his post-death status, then brings us to the Twitter account. First, I’m not sure about strictly interpreting the ㋐ marks as the kappa side, but setting that aside for now. I think it’s worth noting that the only person with a direct line to the higher ups is Mabu, not Reo. Reo just seems to follow orders from Mabu (or at least that was their original arrangement, and I think that might be why when Reo introduces Mabu in the manga he says 俺の同僚だ…ん？同僚でいいのかな…？).
Reo also doesn’t seem to have strong reactions to the ㋐ stuff (they get an ㋐ branded new year’s card for one which prompts no comment, and he recognizes the mark on Mabu’s phone when he gets that call––though, again, I’m not confident about interpreting the ㋐ super strictly) or the otter marks either really (he comments on them only once, or possibly twice depending on how you interpret the 騒がしい comment, and it’s always pretty neutral), Mabu on the other hand seems to have some kind of negative reaction to them.
My still rather poorly supported guess here is that maybe Mabu has actually gone rogue here, lied to Reo about their orders and is actually running missions counter to the otter’s objectives which is why I think Reo reacts so poorly to discovering what he’s actually been up to (I think it’s less out of fealty to the otter side and more that Reo is concerned about Mabu endangering himself/their life together). [Edit] Upon re-reading part of the novel, I think I found another piece of evidence to support the idea that Mabu may have gone rogue at some point in the past (possibly the events as I’ve speculated on the Twitter account)––in chapter 6 of the novel, [ads_blur_spoiler color_blur=”#000000″]when Reo returns to the police box with Haruka, Mabu scolds him for taking unauthorized actions (勝手な行動はするなと言われているが) to which Reo replies “Are you one to talk!” (ハッ！ どの口が言うんだか) [/ads_blur_spoiler] which could be read as a suggestion that Mabu has broken the rules or taken independent action in the past.
Between the Twitter and the anime, there’s been like 10 years, and I suspect Mabu has deteriorated and/or been punished or something which has made him even less himself (perhaps he was even found out and like “reset” at the end of the Twitter account which might explain why his last tweet is so eerily similar to his first).